UCLA Basketball: Full Outlook for Bruins Before Start of Pac-12 Slate

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UCLA Basketball: Full Outlook for Bruins Before Start of Pac-12 Slate
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Through 10 games this season, UCLA has won nine and is third in the nation in scoring at 89.1 points per game. But at only midway through December and a matchup with No. 8 Duke approaching, followed by a Pac-12 gauntlet starting on January 5 against rival USC and then No. 1 Arizona, there is still much to prove for the Bruins as the season rolls on.

First year head coach Steve Alford has proven thus far that the same offensive approach he used at New Mexico can work for the Bruins. After taking the Lobos to three NCAA Tournaments in 2010, 2012 and 2013, Alford appears to be on track in his first year at UCLA—but that is the expectation for Bruins fans.

Below is a full breakdown for UCLA to this point, starting with its biggest strength this season—offense.

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Offensive Productivity

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As previously pointed out, the offense has been huge for the Bruins thus far, as they have scored the third-most points per game in the country through its first 10 games. As a team, the Bruins are shooting at a 54.3 clip, which ranks second in the country behind only Gonzaga at 54.9 percent.

Much of that offensive success is due, in large part, to Jordan Adams. After suffering a season-ending foot injury last year in the Pac-12 tournament, the sophomore shooting guard has been lights out for the Bruins this season and currently ranks 20th in the nation with 21.6 points per game.

The Oak Hill Academy product has improved his shooting percentage from 44.7 last season to 53.3 this season and has seen his three-point shooting percentage jump from 30.7 to 37.5 early in the season. Other than his offensive prowess, Adams has also been great defensively, averaging 3.5 steals per game.

Adams may appear to be its most explosive player, but UCLA is stacked with other offensive weapons. Zach LaVine, Kyle Anderson and Norman Powell are all averaging over 12 points in more than 24 minutes per game.

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Board Burdens

For all of their offensive strengths, the Bruins have failed to prove themselves on the boards. Even against inferior opponents like Morehead State and Northwestern—teams it easily beat—through the early stretch of the season, UCLA ranks 169th in the country with just 36.2 rebounds per game.

Those struggles appear to be due to a lack of size in the paint for the Bruins. With its current roster, UCLA does not have a player over 6'10" and is relying on Anderson and Tony Parker—two 6'9" forwards who have a combined 10.9 rebounds per game—to lead it on the boards.

In its only loss on the year against Missouri, UCLA had to rely on the aforementioned Adams, a 6'5" guard, to carry it in rebounds with 10 in the game. The Bruins were out-rebounded, 47-30, against the Tigers in a game that saw only two players—Anderson and Adams—finish with over six rebounds.

In order for the Bruins to compete in the tough Pac-12, they will need to find a presence down low in order to create more possessions and score second-chance points. But if there's any team that might be creating a blueprint for how to be successful without the ability to rebound at a high rate, it's the Bruins' next opponent, Duke, who averages just 32.6 rebounds per game.

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Moving Forward

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The Bruins look like a team that can contend in the Pac-12 and make a run in the NCAA tournament, but that's only through 10 games. While it's still very early in the season, the Bruins could prove a lot if they can somehow pull out a win against Duke at home on Thursday night.

Following that showdown, UCLA gets a few more cupcakes with Weber State and Alabama at home, but the opening of the Pac-12 schedule could reveal a lot about the team. With games against Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado—three teams with a combined three losses on the season—the Bruins will be tested early.

If the offense can continue at its torrid pace and its defense can hold up against other offensive-heavy teams, the Bruins could very well be one of the top teams in the Pac-12. But if the rebounding issues and others compound and lead to early conference losses, the season could take a turn for the worst.

Where the Bruins' season goes from here is yet to be determined, but the outlook looks bright for one of the most lethal offenses in the country.

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